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Bywater Dance by Mary Flower

Shortly before Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, Mary Flower traveled to the city to work with some of the area’s top musicians.

The result is Bywater Dance, a 14-track CD that is rooted in Flower’s signature folk-blues, but is then seasoned with the dirty, funky sounds of New Orleans. It’s a rich, musical gumbo from start to finish.

Flower has 30 years of performing under her belt, has released about a half-dozen recordings and has twice placed in the top three at the competitive National Fingerpicking Guitar Championship. Even so, she remains largely unsung, and that’s a shame.

"Bywater Dance" is the Portland, Oregon resident’s first CD for Memphis-based Yellow Dog Records. Both her fleet fingers and hearty voice are in good form on the new recording. Among the album highlights is a moving rendition of "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?," which takes on even more meaning in the wake of the hurricane. Much of the music, however, feels like a celebration even with its journeys into blues territory.

"Raise The Devil," an original instrumental, bursts with life. It begins with Flower picking a bluesy tune and settling into a nice, easy rhythm. About a minute into the song, pianist Jon Cleary, who recently worked with Bonnie Raitt, joins in. It’s hard to tell whose fingers are moving faster as each pushes the other to keep up. You can practically feel the sparks.

They also work together on "Last Kind Word Blues," a sparse, dark number that features Flower’s strong, straightforward singing. Cleary’s Hammond B-3 organ adds to the moodiness.

Recorded not far from the French Quarter, the album includes "New Orleans Hop Scop Blues." Here, Flower strikes an old-time New Orleans jazz sound with the help of clarinet, trumpet, trombone and sousaphone to go along with her guitar. On "Terminal Rag," Dr. Michael White’s clarinet proves to be a playful musical partner and once again serves as a fitting nod to the setting.

"Bywater Dance" closes with Flower’s lovely original "Good News Waltz." As it is on the other songs, her guitar playing is nothing but precise and tasteful.

The CD is not strictly folk. It’s not all blues, and it’s not a pure jazz record. Instead, Flower wades into the mouth of a mighty river where they all flow together.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mary Flower
  • CD Title: Bywater Dance
  • Genre: Folk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Yellow Dog Records
  • Tracks: Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me, Raise The Devil, Crow Jane, New Orleans Hop Scop Blues, La Grippe, Last Kind Word Blues, Terminal Rag, Brother Can You Spare A Dime?, Papa’s On The Housetop, Hudson River Rag, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Main Street Blues, Built Right On The Ground and Good News Waltz
  • Musicians: Mary Flower (guitar, lap-slide guitar, vocals), Henry Butler (piano), Jon Cleary (piano and Hammond B-3 organ), Amasa Miller (piano and accordion), Woody Mann (second guitar), Dr. Michael White (clarinet), Tim Laughlin (clarinet), Charlie Miller (trumpet), Craig Klein (trombone), Kirk Joseph (sousaphone), Matt Perrine (sousaphone and string bass), Kerry Lewis (string bass), Kevin O’Day (snare drum) and Chaz Leary (washboard)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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